At the age of 50 I was introduced to horses. I was certainly at a crossroads in my life in many ways and I was a bit unsure of myself as I adapted to both new and diminishing roles. I was uncertain of what I wanted to do with my life and felt increasingly frustrated with feelings of aimlessness. There is a saying, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” And so a horse appeared.
Genelli was a 23-year old mare with a saintly personality. Under the direction of her owner Noelle, she had been giving rides to autistic children for ten years, the training for which made her calm in sometimes stressful situations, focused in spite of conflicting messages (between rider and leader), safe in every situation and a delight for anyone who came in contact with her. I began assisting Noelle with the rides and afterwards often had a chance to do some groundwork with Genelli. I learned basic skills in handling a horse through Parelli’s Seven Games facilitated by Noelle’s instruction and Genelli’s patient willingness. But more importantly, Genelli allowed me to befriend her and she reassured me many times that I am an affectionate and loving person, something that, due to a difficult childhood, I always doubted. The affection I felt towards her was mirrored back with the message, “You know well how to love.” She made sure I understood that before, due to a tragic accident, my time with Genelli was cut short and she was put to rest. I will always remember her as a mirror of love.
BusyBee replaced Genelli for the autistic riding program. This 23-year old mare lacked the self-mastery and finesse that Genelli had, instead displaying a somewhat stubborn, moody disposition. Shortly after leasing her for more intensive work, I was introduced by my friend and partner Noelle to Carol Resnick’s seven Waterhole Rituals, which are based on the daily ceremonies and rituals that wild horses display in their natural environment. With them as our guide, Noelle and I planned interactions between horse and human to reinforce appropriate behavior in BusyBee and develop the strong bond necessary for disciplined performance. The seven Rituals not only enhanced our understanding of each other but also gave me insight into the natural disposition of a noble animal and an opportunity to correct and refine my own.
The first ritual communicates peace by sharing territory with a horse in a non-threatening way, which is the basis for a strong bond. The horse starts to relax and will probably show some curiosity about the human in shared space. The second ritual demonstrates respect by accommodating your horse’s response to your approach to greet him. The ritual builds trust as you prove to him you have no hidden agenda; you merely wish to say hello – if he is ready. The third ritual develops a horse’s awareness of you in shared territory and establishes you as a potential leader. By gently herding him away from a pile of food, you develop the horses’ connection between you and both his territory and food. The fourth ritual increases the horse’s focus on you. This is done by abruptly moving him away from his food whenever he stops paying attention to you. As long as he shows awareness of your position in shared territory, he is left to graze in peace. The fifth ritual enables you to lead your horse from behind, which results in him moving left, right or forward depending on your position and energy level behind him. By the time your horse is ready for the next ritual, there will be a strong bond built on trust, focus and cooperation. The sixth ritual asks for partnership as you invite your horse to walk alongside you at liberty. If the connection is strong, your horse will companion walk; however, you must maintain a leadership position and not allow your horse to start leading you! Finally, the seventh ritual culminates with your horse following your directives to move or stop at the speed you request and to come to you when asked, a without a halter, bridle or rope. When this is accomplished, you and your horse are ready to work together in true harmony – this is called the dance. The rituals are generally sequential but you should be ready to reinforce any of the responses by revisiting the appropriate ritual when necessary.
Helping me learn the rituals was Noelle, who is much more experienced and with a passion for horses like no other. She would give me a summary of what to do, and then sit on the sidelines and watch. When I made a mistake she would shout “No!” and immediately correct me or jump in the paddock to show me the right way. Little by little, I began to see results with BusyBee. Within a few sessions, she was more relaxed, compliant and engaged. But each time I started a new ritual, she would get confused, worried and frustrated – or at least that’s what I sensed. I could practically hear her shouting, “What do you WANT from me?” and then I realized that the voice was my own. A voice not to Noelle, my patient instructor, but to God. Just like BusyBee, I saw myself amidst change, adopting new roles, losing old patterns, and establishing better ways to share space and communicate. I was trying hard and learning fast but, like BusyBee, I could not understand where all this was going.
It dawned on me that BusyBee was my teacher as much as I was hers. She was trying to teach me how to be, and how to be with God. I began to see how God works with us, leading us to greater awareness and willingness until we are in true harmony with Him. First by showing us His territory – this beautiful planet that is His and that He allows us to inhabit. Then by building trust in Him through His favors and by allowing us to approach Him or retreat. He also periodically establishes His authority by taking some of “our” territory – making us realize that He is entitled our attention. With time and experience, we learn to focus on Him, and when we forget, He reminds us that we must be alert and heedful. That’s exactly where I was — aware of His presence in my life and willing to follow His lead. But lately, I had been feeling imbalanced, lost, confused about which direction to go and bewildered about the whole process.
Sensing the same in BusyBee, I wanted to reassure her that everything is going to be OK. She needn’t worry about her role, the future, or what tasks lie ahead. Her only job was to trust me, to focus on me and to show a willingness to be lead from behind. And that’s what I must do too. Once I consistently accept God’s leadership and walk every step with my focus and intention on Him, I will be living from a place of true harmony, as we were all meant to live.
I don’t need to know where I am going – I just need to be ready for the dance.